Monday, April 04, 2005

The Illini are all class - and they kept the Chief at home

Add one more reason why the Illini are a classy team: Chief Illiniwek stayed in Champaign. Thanks to MDS at CerebralFan for the tip. Remember all those stories about how this magical season is distracted by the protests from Chief Illiniwek? Oh that's right: there aren't any. Someone in Urbana had the good sense to leave the white dude jumping around in a fake Indian costume at halftime back where he belongs - back home with the rest of the stuff we have outgrown. We might smile at how people actually believed it was OK to dance around in an Indian suit back then and hold no ill will towards those days, but when the country pays attention, we drop that headdress like a hot potato and compete with more dignity. And somehow, that leaves the symbol of the state's flagship public University just right. We pay our respects to the tribe that gave our state our name without any clownish antics, just a nod to our origins. We ought to let the halftime dance at home fade into memory as well.

UPDATE: Chris Rhodes of the joincrossblog calls into question my alumni status (97 LAS, by the way) because he correctly notes here that Chief Illiniwek does not appear at *any* away games. That's in part because some campuses won't permit him (the University of Minnesota comes to mind). If Cheif Illiniwek isn't welcome elsewhere as a relic of 1950s-era thinking, perhaps we should let our home games catch up to the rest of the world. Elite programs don't have controversial mascots.

One other interesting wrinkle: the House Republicans have been using the "Keep the Chief" issue very well in Champaign County for years -- well done, Chapin Rose -- but I wonder how well it plays in the rest of the state.

11 comments:

So-Called Austin Mayor said...

"Someone in Urbana had the good sense to leave the white dude jumping around in a fake Indian costume at halftime back where he belongs - back home with the rest of the stuff we have outgrown."

Bravo

FightforJustice said...

Who should decide about the mascot? If it's up to the vote of the student body, the Chief stays. If it's up to the alumni, the Chief stays. So, should we follow the democratic process, even if we disagree with the result?

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Fightforjustice -- the Board of Trustees should make the decision. There has never been a vote of the alumni. The Board of Trustees, appointed by the person most Illinois citizens voted for, is the democratic institution to make the call.

ChicagoJason said...

The pseudonymic "Chris Rhodes" is questioning your bonafides? That's rich.

P.S. This UIUC alum will not give the U of I one single penny until that repugnant mascot is gone.

Anonymous said...

Racial discrimination is against the law throughout these United States. Racial and ethnic groups have the right to enjoy life free from discrimination in housing, the workplace, etc.
Nowhere does any law tell them, or any other group, that they have a right to never be offended by what they see or hear.
Chief Illinwek may be offensive to some people, but until someone proves that his existence rises to the level of discrimination, the offended ones need to just grind their teeth and deal with it.
'Majority rules' sounds like a cliche', but the other option seems more like anarchy where we follow the group(s) that bitch the loudest.
BTW, I'm also a U of I LAS grad, Class of '74. Basically, that makes me an old fart who has listened to the whining of minority for way too long.

MDS said...

"This UIUC alum will not give the U of I one single penny until that repugnant mascot is gone"

That repugnant mascot was there when you went to school there. If you were willing to benefit from the education, it's selfish of you not to be willing to make donations that will allow current students to get the same benefits you got. I'm an alumn who's opposed to the Chief, but I won't deprive current students of the best education they can receive, so I'll gladly give what I can to my alma mater.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Hi LAS '74 -- keeping some guy in a fake Indian costume isn't about racial discrimination or 'proving' that people are offended. It's about the symbol of our University -- are we a modern university that produces research and alumni to lead the globe, or are we sort of a backwards, po-dunk little school with an embarassing mascot? Chief Illiniwek projects the latter image, and it's time we let it go.

ChicagoJason said...

Kindly do not lecture me on what I should or should not do with my money. Did I suggest to you that you not give to the U of I, if that is your wish? No.

I prefer to give to my other alma mater, which does not have a mascot which I find offensive.

Anonymous said...

Ok, you can call me 'LAS 74'. I've been called a lot worse during discussions about The Chief.
First, you need to learn a little more about the subject. The Chief doesn't wear a 'fake Indian costume'. The clothing Chief Illiniwek wears was created by a Sioux Indian who proudly presented it to the school (knowing how it would be used) in 1983. That is true going all the way back to the first Chief Illiniwek back in 1926.
The name 'Illinois' is a French derivation of the Native American tribes that once lived here. Check the state map for places like Algonquin, Pontiac, Kaskaskia and Ottawa, to name a few. Cahokia was the site of a major Native American metropolis. Our Illinois heritage is irrevocably meshed with that of the tribes who once lived here. I shouldn't be surprised that someone who grew up on a diet of Sesame Street would be ready to toss out tradition if they felt it was not 'PC'.
As for what is the right symbol that represents what the University is, I don't understand your comments. The Chief was the symbol for the University when John Bardeen was there inventing the transistor. It was the symbol for the University when the Illiac supercomputers were being developed. Same for the period when Mosaic (the basis for our Web browsers) was being developed, and the period when the U of I was tabbed to host the NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications).
Those are the things that make up a school's professional reputation. Arguing that the school's symbol, created and offered to honor Illini Indian tribes is really how the school gets its image just doesn't hold water. The misinformed who see Chief Illiniwek as just another foppish cartoon character like those of the Atlanta Braves or Cleveland Indians are basically uniformed. Combine their cluelessness with some politically-correct self-righteousness, and you have the 'anti-Chief' movement.
Oh, and one last item, Chief Illiniwek isn't a 'mascot', he is a symbol. U of I was the first school to ever have a person act as a symbol for the University. Other schools would later create mascots to clown around the sidelines at events. Please don't just lump The Chief in with Bucky the Badger.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

LAS 74 -- I don't doubt the sincerity of the early Chief supporters. But the world has changed. I would argue that what was acceptable in the 50s and 70s is no longer acceptable and forward-thinking now, no matter how well-intentioned the creators of the Chief may be. How can we avoid lumping in the Chief, a white student jumping around in a costume during a halftime show to pump up the crowd, with Bucky the Beaver, a white student jumping around in a costume during a halftime show to pumpup the crowd? I don't think it's possible, unless we stop sending some guy to run around in a costume (which is fake in the sense that it is not an Illiniwek design, not even dealing with the Chief-as-religious-leader issue, which raises Priest Illiniwek analogies). I agree that we are tied to the Illini Confederation. I also happen to agree that a symbol can work and we should keep the symbol. It's a regal image (the round Chief symbol). But the definition of a mascot is a clown in a costume running around during a sports event, and that's what the student playing Chief Illiniwek is. That's the direction we've been moving for the last few decades -- from unrestricted appearances from Chief Illiniwek all over the place to now, only a particular ceremony during halftime because otherwise the Chief looks like a goofy mascot, not a symbol. You may see the nuance between the Chief Tamohawk (or whatever the Cleveland Indians call their mascot) and Chief Illiniwek, but it's a distinction without a difference in my book.

Anonymous said...

From LAS '74:
Of course the world has changed, but you're advocating change for the sake of change. Altgeld Hall doesn't present a very modern image, but I doubt that you'd advocate tearing it down in favor of a 'glass-and-steel' modern building just because.
I suppose you'll see only that which you choose to see. I don't see Chief Illiniwek leading cheers or clowning in front of the stands throughout the game. He doesn't get passed back up the stands by fans. He certainly wasn't in the 'college mascot battle'.
Why? Because The Chief is a dignified, revered symbol to most of the students, faculty and alums.
The 'Whinin' Illini' or whatever the strident minority calls itself, haven't staked out any moral high ground. Their approach is to use the 'bully pulpit' in hopes that if they scream loud and long enough, they will get their way. My kids learned that those tactics don't work when they were four years old. I have no doubt that the anti-Chief groups' rancorous misinformation and disinformation campaigns have hurt the university, but they are fanatics. A fanatic, Winston Churchill said, is someone who can't change his mind, and won't change the subject. It doesn't matter to them what their antics do to the reputation of a fine university, just as long as they get their way.